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Jefferson Savarino's spark helps Real Salt Lake sweep West leaders

Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) heads the ball to save a goal during MLS soccer against FC Dallas in Sandy on Saturday, July 7, 2018.
Real Salt Lake forward Jefferson Savarino (7) heads the ball to save a goal during MLS soccer against FC Dallas in Sandy on Saturday, July 7, 2018.
Ravell Call

SANDY — Jefferson Savarino turned over a new leaf this past week.

Instead of letting opposing defenders dictate the match, the Real Salt Lake winger showed off a newfound toughness and fight this past week in wins over Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas.

He showed up on the score sheet in both games, with a goal on Wednesday and an assist on Saturday, but his commitment on both sides of the ball is what had coach Mike Petke raving after Saturday’s win.

Real Salt Lake’s coach usually doesn’t give out game ball’s after a win, but he made a point to give one to Savarino after his relentless effort against Dallas.

“We’ve been preaching to Jefferson and really challenging him and riding him for 90 minute to be focused. ‘We know what you can do offensively, but I want to see your commitment defensively, to get back.’ I thought he was phenomenal at that aspect tonight. We’ve been waiting for that for a while and he put it on display tonight,” said Petke.

Savarino was focused defensively when he cleared two shots off Real Salt Lake’s line in the second half. The commitment was further recognizable in the 88th minute when he made a 30-yard sprint back defensively to win a tackle.

“That was the one thing that was too infrequent from him for a while. He is a star player with the ball at his feet, but whatever next level he wants to get to, whether that’s the national team, or whether that’s to go to a big-time team in Europe or somewhere, this is what it’s going to take,” said Petke.

With Savarino’s assist on Luis Silva’s stoppage time insurance goal on Saturday, he now has three goals and three assists this season.

The production isn’t quite at the same level as his debut season with RSL last year, but things are trending upward for the Venezuelan after this week.

Leading into RSL’s big week against the pair of West leaders, Petke was asked what Savarino can do to have an impact on the game even when he’s getting fouled so much. In a nutshell, he said, “kick them back.”

Savarino was so much more effective than that simple approach against Dallas. He didn’t necessarily kick back, but he was so much tougher on the ball when opposing defenders tried knocking him off.

Just as important, he played quicker when the ball was at his feet and didn’t invite defenders to make physical tackles.

“He’s a young kid, it was wearing on his mind how much he’s been targeted, but that’s a credit to him how good he is that teams feel they need to do that,” said Petke.

Savarino will try and build on his strong week next Saturday when Real Salt Lake travels to face Minnesota United, which sits in ninth place in the Western Conference.